Pub quizzes perplex Yale pupils

A degree from Yale University ostensibly signifies the best education money can buy. Spending four years at Yale is the first step to running multi-billion dollar companies and whole countries, to winning Nobels and Pulitzers and maybe even Oscars, to building skyscrapers or curing diseases. In four years at Yale, I have learned multivariable calculus, memorized Chinese history up to the present-day, and played game theory until I felt like my head was going to explode. I have spent a good amount of quality time with Leibniz, Wagner and Joyce.

None of this, however, prepared me for the Anna Liffey’s pub quiz on Tuesday night.

Pub quizzes, for those of you never lucky enough to attend one, are an interesting phenomenon. Usually hosted in an Irish bar, they attract hordes of people, creating great business for what would otherwise be a slow weeknight. People come in teams, which are required to have ridiculous names, and answer several rounds of questions posed by a Quizmaster — a man with a thick Irish brogue and a somewhat incomprehensible sense of humor.

Arriving at 8:30 for the 9 p.m. quiz, we were already too late to get a table. Some patrons had clearly been camped out for hours, empty dinner plates and drained glasses littering their staked-out territory.

Lesson #1: Come early. Pub quizzers take their pub quizzing seriously.

Desperate for seats, we edged into a bench in the back, asking the people surrounding us to move their mountains of jackets and bags. We managed to sit down just in time to hear the Quizmaster read off the team names — Same Sex Schools Suck, Doodletown Pipers, Dirty Carebears, Hanover, Jenny’s Got a Gun, Stinky Pinky and the Shockers, and a number of names which were unintelligible when said in the announcer’s thick accent.

Lesson #2: They’re not kidding around when they say they want ridiculous names, the more profane the better. Best to plan ahead.

After not being able to find seats, our other two teammates had left, so our team — unnamed — was down to two. But still, we wanted to test our mettle. The room was only about one-fifth Yale undergraduates, the rest a mix of grad students and, mostly, New Haven locals. We should do pretty well, right?

Don’t get your hopes up; I’ll tell you right now that we left early, far before the bitter end, so we never knew our score. But I’m positive we would not have won, or even placed.

We knew that PETA stood for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, that the Soviet Union bore the most military and civilian losses in World War II, and, inexplicably, that a female peacock is called a peahen. We did not know the three ways heat is transferred, or if the stripes on the Belgian flag are vertical or horizontal. It may not be surprising to know that we, two female English majors, did not know how many minutes are in an NBA quarter. It may be more surprising to know that we, two senior female English majors at Yale University, did not know what kind of animal Boxer is in George Orwell’s “Animal Farm.”

Oh, for shame.

Ultimately, the whole experience — the crushing inevitability of our defeat — didn’t upset me as losses, no matter how minor, usually do. But it did get me thinking about what I have and have not learned in four years at Yale.

I don’t so much mean academically; I can always go out and read “Animal Farm” on my own and have a perfectly good discussion of the symbolism (I get it, it’s Communism) with some seventh grader who had the novel on his summer reading list.

I’m talking about what I’ve learned about people: both myself and others. Isn’t college the time you are supposed to learn about those kind of things? Isn’t college when, away from the cares and distractions of the Big Bad World, you are supposed to find your sense of self?

Well …

Off the top of my head, I’ve learned how to argue, when to stop poking fun, and that giving hugs is more often appropriate than not. I still haven’t learned how to be completely honest, both with myself and others, but I also haven’t learned how to bullshit, either in class or in my personal life. I’ve learned how to let go of grudges. I haven’t learned how to stop starting to hold them in the first place.

The other teams at the pub quiz did better than us, in part, just because they were older. They have more life experience. When the Quizmaster asks what year MTV launched (1981) or who ran against Reagan for his second term of office (Walter Mondale), many of the other competitors remember not just reading about the events in books, but living through them. People even just a few years older than us college students — not necessarily the Anna Liffey’s pub quizzers, but perhaps — have had just that many more years to absorb knowledge, and to absorb self-understanding.

Until a certain point, that kind of knowledge — knowledge of self, knowledge of the world — seems to increase exponentially rather than linearly. That point is different for everyone; everyone’s graph looks different. My graph, at least, seems to have only just left the trough portion and started to take off. Meanwhile, graduation is in five weeks.

The Anna Liffey’s pub quiz taught me more than just Starbucks’ stock market code (SBUX — clever, eh?). It showed me that, even graduating from Yale, I still have a lot left to learn.

Claire Stanford knows alcohol is a powerful study aid.